Huntington’s Old-Tech Windfall

Times Staff Writer

A collection of rare books and reference volumes tracing the history of science and technology, including original works by Isaac Newton and the scientific library of Louis Pasteur, has been donated to the Huntington Library in San Marino, officials announced Monday.

The Burndy Library, which contains 67,000 books and reference volumes and a collection of scientific instruments, will reposition the Southern California institution as one of the leading centers in the nation for scholarly research in science history, Huntington Library President Steven S. Kolik said.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. May 4, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 04, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Huntington director: An article in Tuesday’s California section on a donation of rare books to the Huntington Library misspelled the last name of library director Steven S. Koblik as Kolik.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 06, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Huntington Library: A “For the Record” in Thursday’s A section identified Steven S. Koblik as director of the Huntington Library in San Marino. He is the institution’s president.

“Take the Burndy collection and add the materials that are already at the Huntington and you have an extraordinary collection on the history of science,” Kolik said.


“It makes the Huntington one of the great centers for the study of the history of science,” Kolik added. “With USC, UCLA and Caltech in Southern California, we now have the collection to go with the scholars.”

The gift includes an $11.6-million grant to manage the collection -- money to conserve and exhibit it, as well as to support fellowships and related research. It is the largest gift donated to the Huntington since its founding by Henry E. Huntington in 1919, officials said.

“It raises the level of the history of science and technology research to our British and American history and literature,” Huntington Library Director David Zeidberg said. “It increases our rare-book holdings by one-seventh. The quantity alone is raising our areas of research. There are many colleges and universities that have history of science and technology programs going, and a winning argument was how much was already going on in Southern California.”

Now housed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Burndy Library is scheduled to move to the Huntington this fall.

Founded by inventor, scholar and industrialist Bern Dibner, the Burndy has a strong focus on the physical sciences and includes materials from antiquity to the 20th century, with a particular emphasis on 18th century physics. It includes major collections in 18th and 19th century mathematics, the history of electricity, civil and structural engineering, optics and color theory.

There are also treasures, such as a 1544 edition of Archimedes’ “Philosophi ac Geometrae,” a first edition of Robert Boyle’s “Experiments” and his notes from 1675 about the mechanical origin or production of electricity, as well as Pasteur’s scientific library.

Dibner designed and patented the first solder-less electrical connector -- a new way to join cable and wire -- and founded Burndy Engineering Co. in 1924.

He established the Burndy Library in 1941 to house his growing collection of prized books and manuscripts, a pursuit he began as a student at the University of Zurich. A prolific author and scholar, he wrote more than 100 books and articles on such topics as the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable, 18th century electrical experiments, Renaissance engineering and Leonardo da Vinci.

His best-known work is “Heralds of Science” (1955, updated in 1983), which includes explanations and quotations from what Dibner considered the 200 most important books in the history of science. “Heralds” has become a widely used reference tool among bibliographers, booksellers and scholars.

With the addition of the Burndy Library, Zeidberg said, the Huntington will hold 177 of the 200 volumes mentioned in “Heralds of Science.”

Zeidberg said the Huntington was chosen to hold Dibner’s collections not only because of its proximity to leading scholars but because the Burndy fits so well with the Huntington’s current holdings in the field.

One of the library’s major collections is in the history of science and technology. It documents the growth of scientific inquiry from the 12th century to the dawn of the 21st.

The history of astronomy is perhaps the Huntington’s strongest area.

Included is a manuscript of a 1279 copy of Ptolemy’s “Almagest,” the papers of Edwin Hubble and nearly a century’s worth of director’s papers from nearby Mt. Wilson Observatory, including correspondence between George Ellery Hale, the observatory’s onetime director, and Albert Einstein.

The library’s holdings of printed works by Charles Darwin are unsurpassed in the United States, with the books supplemented by 68 letters written by Darwin to contemporaries.

The Huntington has one of the most heavily used rare-books libraries in the nation outside of the Library of Congress, delivering more than 350,000 rare items to about 1,700 visiting scholars each year.